THE YARRA‎, ‎SUNSET‎, ‎c‎.‎1930‎

Important Australian + International Fine Art
10 April 2019


(‎1887 ‎– ‎1935‎)‎
THE YARRA‎, ‎SUNSET‎, ‎c‎.‎1930‎

oil on board‎

30‎.‎5 ‎x ‎35‎.‎5 ‎cm‎

signed lower right‎: ‎C Beckett‎
inscribed with title verso: The Yarra, Sunset

$‎40‎,‎000 ‎– ‎50‎,‎000
Sold for $48,800 (inc. BP) in Auction 57 - 10 April 2019, Sydney

Private collection
Deutscher~Menzies, Sydney, 7 December 2005, lot 16
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

‘When we look back at the 20th century from a vantage point in the next, certain Australian artists stand out, not just for the aesthetic quality of their work, but also for their significant contribution to our understanding of what constitutes the Australian identity. Clarice Beckett is one such artist. Her works capture the essence of Australian city life, in particular that of Melbourne and more specifically that of the bayside suburbs, at a time between the World Wars when the advent of the modern age was signified by the motor car and the ubiquitous telegraph pole’.1

Although enjoying universal admiration and acclaim today, Clarice Beckett’s highly evocative works that celebrated modernity and the quiet beauty of suburbia were nevertheless challenging for her time. Not only was the momentous task of expressing Australian values in landscape painting a distinctly male prerogative, with flower pieces and indoor scenes the only subject matter deemed suitable for women artists. Moreover, the ridicule and critical denigration she frequently encountered in reviews of her paintings was the direct result of her association with her teacher, tonal realist painter Max Meldrum – a ferociously argumentative man whose theory and teaching of art as a science based upon exact optical analysis upset conservative art circles and undermined the strict academic approach endorsed by the National Gallery School. Indeed, that Beckett never compromised her unique vision, continuing to paint ‘against all odds’ – and that today her legacy endures despite near obscurity at the time of her death in 1935 and the vast destruction of her works subsequently – poignantly highlights the compelling and inspirational nature of her achievements.

Recalling Whistler’s lyrical nocturnes, The Yarra, Sunset, c.1930 offers one of the most exquisite elaborations of the artist’s signature motif – the city enveloped in a rosy toned, transparent veil of luminosity evoking the last moments of twilight. Painted on the Richmond side of the Yarra River, from a position near the Chapel Street bridge, the composition features the railway bridge still present today (although altered in appearance) that carries busy suburban trains to and from the city, with the tall gothic spires of the city churches, Scots and the Independent, just perceptible in the palest silhouette of the background. Although conveying a very definite sense of time and place – Melbourne of the 1930s – paradoxically the work also bears an unmistakable sense of the universal, of silence within its stillness. Rich in lyricism and beauty, it encapsulates the artist’s preference for early evening subjects which, importantly, was not simply to enhance poetic effect. Rather, Beckett delighted in the technical challenge of capturing the essence of her subject within the fleeting moment – of observing the transient, atmospheric effects of light to develop delicate tonal nuances that blurred the boundaries between reality and illusion. As the artist herself aptly elucidated in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne painters in 1924, her artistic aim was always ‘To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality’.2

1. Lindsay, F., ‘Foreword’ in Hollinrake, R., Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, exhibition catalogue, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 1999, p. 3
2. Beckett, C., Twenty Melbourne Painters 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1924, quoted in Hollinrake, ibid., p. 19